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The Memphis Grizzlies went green this holiday season and fed 100 families

The entire team packed and distributed baskets of farm-grown, healthy food options with members of Green Leaf Learning Farm

The South Memphis Farmers Market sits on Memphis, Tennessee’s, South Side. The owners host an outdoor market every Thursday and keep a grocer on hand to stay open year-round.

But on Wednesday, the grounds were open for a different reason. Members of the Memphis Grizzlies held their annual Thanksgiving Giveaway in partnership with Green Leaf Learning Farm. Their mission? To lend a hand at solving a food scarcity issue too close to home.

The South Memphis residential area may be heavily populated, but it is considered a food desert: a district with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh, healthy and affordable foods.

Grizzlies players, coaches, executives and employee volunteers were on hand to help distribute fresh produce to 100 families. They packed nutritious dinner boxes including beets, kale, carrots, potatoes, collard greens, mustard greens, green onions, tomatoes, a few varieties of peppers, eggplant and more. All of the items were harvested by the Green Leaf Learning Farm.

The Memphis Grizzlies participates in a Thanksgiving giveaway on November 21, 2017 at Green Leaf Learning Farm in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Green Leaf Learning Farm is part of a local community organization called Knowledge Quest (KQ). The center is housed on the 2/3-acre urban microfarm that sits directly across from KQ’s main campus. Formally initiated in 2010 to support the nutritional needs of the South Memphis community, Green Leaf now operates as a certified U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic farm that focuses its efforts on three strategic pillars: student education, community/economic development and food access/security.

“This is my favorite thing to do in this city,” said Grizzlies coach David Fizdale. “The Green Leaf project is a special project. I’m just so honored to be a part of it. I can’t wait to expand this all over Memphis, because there’s nothing better for our communities than our urban farms. This is really a special place and a special project.”

On the farm, KQ students and community members learn how to grow food in ways that build community and increase the neighborhood’s access to healthy foods. Students become healthy eaters, entrepreneurs and advocates for social and environmental justice.

“This is awesome. We are all out here — the whole team in South Memphis,” said Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons. “We’re doing all sorts of things: growing natural vegetables for the holidays, we’re over there cleaning different vegetables, packaging boxes for families that are less fortunate, interacting with the people of our city. It’s a really good time to come out here and get out of our comfort zones a little bit and give back to the community.”

The Memphis Grizzlies have made significant investments (financial, sweat equity, creating awareness) in Green Leaf Farms the past three years, and the Thanksgiving Giveaway is only part of their support of the organization and neighborhood.

Mario Chalmers #6 of the Memphis Grizzlies participates in a Thanksgiving giveaway on November 21, 2017 at Green Leaf Learning Farm in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The farm is used to educate students about urban agriculture and healthy eating. As part of the program, the participating children grow their own food for meals during KQ’s summer camp and after-school programs. The farm also serves the KQ food pantry.

Marlon Foster, founder and executive director of Knowledge Quest, launched Green Leaf farms to help solve challenges for communities in food deserts.

“You have two primary variables that come out of that,” Foster explained. “One is just access to grocery stores, but related is access to healthy options for food. So it’s great to be able to help support both of those challenges for the communities. To have fresh produce readily available and accessible, but then to be one of the few USDA beginning operations, we’re ensuring also the highest quality of food is made available to our neighbors.”

KQ currently has about 300 students who are active in the program and range between pre-K and 12th grade. Foster said the Grizzlies are big supporters of Knowledge Quest’s infrastructure in helping with awareness of the farm.

“Everyone gets kind of mass exposure, but then they’re growing the garden clubs. So the students are highly passionate about urban agriculture; they get a chance to have deeper immersion experiences.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.